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Mark Masters

SPORTSCENTRE Reporter

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Seth Jones is one of the few National Hockey League players still at the rink these days. The Columbus Blue Jackets defenceman is recovering from a fractured ankle so he's allowed to check in daily for treatment and rehab during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"It's been an uphill battle, but ​I'm starting to skate again and figuring out that stuff and getting back to 100 per cent," he said. "We're obviously taking it a little slower than we would in season. Of course, we have a little more time on our hands now so just not overworking it and going through it slowly and the process has been good so far."

Jones, who sustained the injury on Feb. 8 and underwent surgery three days later, spends around three hours at the team's facility each morning and is skating every other day.

"I'll go in and do a lot of strengthening of the ankle and try and get the ligaments and everything back and firing again and get the muscles around it going. I'll do a little bike ride to kind of loosen it up," he said.

The initial timeline for recovery was eight to 10 weeks.

Once the recovery process is complete Jones hopes to join brother Caleb, a defenceman with the Edmonton Oilers, at their mom's place in Dallas.

"When I leave the rink, there's not much going on. I come home and play a little Call of Duty with the teammates and with the brother and try to cook some dinners now and then."

How are his culinary skills?

"Coming along," he says with a grin. "I've been trying some different things here and there, but at the end of the day there's only so much you can do. I'm not a pro chef so I cook some salmon, chicken and steak. I try and mix it up whenever I can ...  Everyone has a lot of time on their hands."

Jones spent some of that time doing a Skype interview with TSN on Friday. During a wide-ranging conversation, the 25-year-old theorized about why fiery head coach John Tortorella hasn't reached out much during the season pause and also reflected on his personal quest to win a Norris Trophy.

The following is an edited transcript of the exchange.

After you got hurt in the first period on Feb. 8 you stayed in the game and ended up playing more than 23 minutes against the Colorado Avalanche. You also scored a goal and appeared to be in a lot of pain. What do you remember about that? Where does that rank in terms of painful moments?

"Man (smiles), it was up there. We did what we could to tape it. Obviously, we had no idea it was broken when I went back and played. It was too small of a break for the X-rays to show it so I went back out and you just have to play through it. It's one of those things where you don't think about it. Obviously, when you're on the ice it’s hurting. It was up there in terms of pain tolerance that I've had to endure in my career. It was pretty cool that I scored on it, too."

Were you surprised to learn it was broken?

"I was, I was. You know, we just thought it was a pretty bad sprain with the X-ray not showing anything. We thought it would be high ankle (sprain), but then getting the MRI the next day, it showed it. You know, I was surprised. I've never been out this long in my whole career even before the NHL so that was a gut punch, especially the timing of it and where we were in the playoff position and things like that. That kind of made it all a little bit worse."

If the NHL season resumes it certainly sounds like it will be without fans in the stands. How would that change the dynamic?

"The fans are so important to our game, they give you energy when you play at home, they give you energy when you play on the road as well so it would be difficult, but I do think it's possible. Our TV contracts are big revenue for our league so I think if everyone can't come to the game then obviously everyone would love watching us play whenever that time comes or if that time comes."

Without fans, will it be harder to ride waves of momentum in games?

"Yeah, for sure. I think fans are a big part of momentum swings, especially when you're playing at home. You have a few good shifts in a row and there's a stop in play then the fans are up on their feet, they're cheering and it gives you more and more energy. So, it will be a little bit of a change. You're going to have to create a little of your own energy and try to play a more simple game and a clean game where you can control those momentum swings."

If there's not enough time to finish the regular season, do you have a preferred idea for a playoff structure?

"Obviously, we're in now (on points), but if they go with points percentage we wouldn't like that very much. But, it'd also be tough for a team behind us like the Islanders, who have played two games less than us and are one point back, you know, you can't just say, 'Hey, too bad, sorry.' So a fair way is to (include) a lot of the teams that are close to a spot. I know they're talking about the 24-team playoff, play-in kind of thing with teams getting byes. It's just all up in the air. It's a waiting game for us right now. But I think it'd be cool to see something a little different and spice it up a bit for the fans, especially with this two, three months we're off and not playing."

How long will it take teams to get up to speed if the season resumes? Seems like a two or three-week training camp is being considered, does that sound about right to you?

"Yeah, that sounds about right. I think there's been talks about anything from two to four. I know the NBA is talking about four (weeks) at the moment, but anywhere between two to four really (works). We're all in the same boat here so no one's really getting an advantage. I think our training camp before the season is about three weeks anyway so I think two weeks is a pretty good time to start the season back up."

If the season resumes it will obviously be hot outside and the ice may not be as good as usual. What do you make of playing meaningful hockey in the dead of summer?

"I don't think that's going to be on our minds, the ice quality, it will be fine wherever we're playing. It's really the same in a lot of buildings now with how big they are. It will be weird though. I think a lot of guys' time frames will be off and so it will be an adjustment, for sure. It's going to be imperative to maybe get a couple games in before the playoffs. It's going to be very tough to go into it, you know, (with) how the playoffs are ... it's an all-out war so to go in there without any games under your belt after that period of time is going to be difficult. But us and the NHL can work out a way to make it safe and fair for everyone."

Whatever happens, it's been quite a season in Columbus. You guys stayed in the race despite losing Sergei Bobrovsky and Artemi Panarin in free agency and then dealing with a string of injuries. What are you most proud of about how the Jackets played?

"Just our relentlessness. We went through a lot of injuries. We lost one of the best forwards in the league, one of the best goalies in the league and we had to find a way to play a little bit different this year and we did that. A lot of the guys who came up from the AHL, from Cleveland when we had injuries up here did a heck of a job playing our systems to the best of their ability and giving us energy every single night. And then just playing like dogs, really. That's what we did as a group. We played together. We weren't always perfect. We found ways to win games we shouldn't have and we lost games we probably should've won along the way. The position we're in is a good spot for us, I think."

You guys had a league-leading 15 losses after regulation with 11 in overtime and four in a shootout. Just an unlucky year in that department? What went wrong? 

"I don'​t know (smiles, shakes head) we just couldn't figure it out. We had some bad bounces, we had some bad reads, probably myself included in a lot of that since I'm playing in overtime. It was a little bit of an adjustment because when you have a guy like Panarin you can literally just give him the puck and just go get open, it's literally that simple. So, you take that creativity out and you have to figure out other ways to create open ice and create mismatches for your team and create speed so a little bit of an adjustment and hopefully we can get better in the future."

Tortorella was getting some Jack Adams Trophy buzz this season. What did he do well?

"He did a great job right from the start. You could tell the fire that he had just from all the doubters and, obviously, with the free agents leaving, it's one of the first things we talked about this season. He gets a lot of mixed reviews on how he coaches, but I think the way he coaches our team with the youth and way we need to learn to play the game every, single night, he's done an exceptional job for us. He may come with more fire than you may want sometimes, but that's part of it. His anger is just a reflection of how bad he wants to win and how bad he wants us to win together."

Have you heard much from him during this season pause?

"No (chuckle) not really. We haven't, no. I think he likes the pause more than everybody else does. He doesn't really want to see us, I'm sure (laughs)."

He's sick of seeing you guys every day?

"Exactly, exactly (laughing). It's a nice, little break."

Where do you think you're at in your development?

"I thought my season was OK this year. I didn't start the way I wanted to start and, for whatever reason, the consistency wasn't in my game. But with each year I've been growing and getting a little smarter and your reads are just quicker, because you do something over and over and over again. It was my seventh year this year and I feel like I'm getting old, but I'm only 25 so it's been a fun process. I'm learning every day. I get to play with some great players. Obviously, Zach (Werenski) has been my partner for the last three years so watching him be great this year and playing with him has been a real treat."

Who are the other defencemen in the NHL that you watch and admire?

"I would say probably (Victor) Hedman, he does it on both sides of the ice, plays in a lot of situations for his team. (Roman) Josi's been having a phenomenal year as well. I mean, obviously (John) Carlson, you look at the point totals there, and you can't take out a guy like (Drew) Doughty. There are probably five or six defencemen in the league that every single year are considered the best of the best, cream of the crop and, obviously, I want my name in that group for years to come."

How close do you feel you are to fulfilling your potential?

"Well, there's still a lot of room for improvement so I'm not sure. I'll come back from this injury and obviously I want to play my best every single time I step on the ice and I want to do what's best for the team as well. I like to play in all situations - power play, penalty kill, really whatever the team needs me to do I'll do. Hopefully, I can continue to grow. It's a dream of mine to be up for the Norris (Trophy) and to win the Norris so I'm definitely pushing for that."

Dustin Byfuglien's contract with the Jets was terminated today and his future in the NHL is up in the air. What stands out the most about Big Buff?

"He was tough to handle when he was playing. Whether it was his physicality or offensive ability or his skating ability, when he was engaged it was crazy, really. His size and his shot, he really had it all as a defenceman and he was an unbelievable offensive defenceman for Winnipeg. It'd be weird not playing him anymore, but I'm sure he's probably enjoying himself."

Any Byfuglien moment stand out? 

"I don't know when it was, it may have been in the playoffs when they played Nashville maybe two, three years ago, there was a scrum and he had two guys like this (grabbing gesture) and he pulled two guys out of the scrum. That's the one memory I still have of him. That's just how big and strong he was and that had nothing to do with the skill. You put the skill on top of it and it was pretty special."